Monday, January 9, 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8: Last Gleaming

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight Volume 8: Last Gleaming is my first graphic novel reading in ages!  I chose to read this before any others so I could be in familiar territory since I loved the television series so much and had read the first seven volumes in the series already.  It didn't hurt that, unlike some transitions from television to comics, many of the television writers are on hand to continue the stories they helped define on screen.  Including, of course, creator Joss Whedon who is not unfamiliar with writing for comics.  I loved the work he did on Runaways and if not everyone appreciated his work on Astonishing X-Men, there are those who feel he did a great job there as well.

Now I am inclined, of course, to love season 8 because I miss the show so very much.  I miss the characters and seeing the choices they make, how they face and ultimately defeat the Big Bad of each season, and wondered if they ever would determine once and for all whether there is a plural for “apocalypse.”  I am, if not a fanatic, a devotee.  Which is why I am honestly going to say that I liked BtVS:S8 almost in spite of the content.  I think Whedon, and his other writers (Espanson, Meltzer, Petrie, et al) should have taken a page out of the “lessons learned” notebook of George Lucas, who still hasn’t learned that less-is-more.  Star Wars fans have seen, time and time again, what happens when Lucas has a bigger budget.  Bigger does not always mean better and rather than a big budget resulting in a better movie the results are merely a bigger mess.

Without the prohibition of production budgets, the writers and artists are able to kill as many demons in as large a scale as they like, without worrying about the CGI costs or the technical limitations of prosthetic make-up.  The result is that a lot can happen on the page that is too fiscally prohibitive on the screen.  When the series begins, the Scoobies and Company are scattered—Buffy and Xander are in Scotland, Giles is not too far away in England, Andrew is still in Italy (which is where he was last time we saw him on Angel), and Robin in the United States and . . . I could go on and list the potentials-turned-slayers and their various locations but you get the point.

The strength of the television series has always been the interactions between the characters.  The bonds that are made and broken, the conflicts that come and go, watching them grow from high school teenagers to young adults.  Although the various characters do eventually come together, the group dynamic is not dominant throughout and the end result is a bit convoluted. 

But before I was halfway through BtVS: S8:  LG, I could see that Whedon and his writers were down-scaling the narrative.  Because the writers know these characters so intimately, there is a trust the reader brings to the text that a hard-core fan of the show probably won’t carry.  The more casual fan, not having sufficient confidence in the writers, will doubtless have given up many issues ago.  I suspect that even a few devoted fans read season 8 wishing Whedon et al had left well enough alone.  Having finished BtVS: S8 I can only say that this is unfortunate because Whedon himself says at the end of the final that “I realized that the things I loved the best were the things you loved the best: the peeps.” 

So for those of you who gave up on BtVS, maybe it’s worth giving the season a second chance.  Truth be told, I didn’t like S1 the first time I saw it but now look forward to it every time I start missing Buffy again.  Or if you simply refuse to give season 8 a chance, then maybe be a little more open to the potential of season 9 because it promises to be less “ambitious,” for lack of a better term.  Again, to quote Whedon “Buffy’s best when she’s walking that alley, dusting vamps,” and I concur.  Now that it doesn’t cost his production team $5000 per dusting to make these things happen, the story can still be bigger with more vamps being killed without losing focus on the Scoobies.

I concede that season 8, in general, did not leave me enthusiastic for more.  Only the final volume, Last Gleaming, makes me say with absolute certainty that I will read season 9 with interest and follow it through to the end.  Because even when the writers have let me down *cough*Adam*cough* they always came through in the end.  I trust them because for 7 seasons they never let me down (or when they did *cough*the Initiative*cough* they more than made up for it *cough*Hush*cough*) and I’m willing to believe that S9 will fulfill in ways that S8 does not quite manage.

What’s next for me, the intrepid Buffy fan?  Well, I’m currently reading a scholarly look at the original television series.  Also, I’ve no doubt that, before the year ends, I’ll reread all of season 8.  Perhaps as with the Harry Potter books, my appreciation for the individual parts will be stronger. 

Footnote:  Whedon is ruthless when it comes to his people so it should come as no surprise that, during season 8, someone is lost.  After seeing Tara’s blood splatter across Willow and Anya being sliced through (not to mention other harrowing deaths in the Whedon-verse), it’s hard to believe that another loss would be able to hit hard.  But it does.  It really does. 

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